Monday, May 10, 2004

War and Privatisation

I have to say that I don't relish the thought of blogging about the conflict in Iraq. To some degree that's because there are so many others out there who are doing such a good job. But I've got other reasons too. First of all, I'm Canadian. I'm an expatriate, but I'm still Canadian. Social-democratic minded Canadians like me still have a reticence about writing on the United States, no matter where we happen to live. It's kind of political.

A prime minister of ours once quipped that the Canada - U.S. relationship was like a that of a "mouse in bed with an elephant - no matter how friendly that elephant is, one is affected by every twitch and grunt." It's an apt metaphor because it captures perfectly the strange mingling of intimacy and resentment that has always characterised the Canadian view of the relationship. As a person who has felt many twitches and grunts in my lifetime I think sometimes neglect to pay attention to what my ex-neighbor gets up to. Even when it becomes clear that the ol' elephant next door is being rather less than friendly. Or is killing and torturing innocent civilians.

It might be one of the benefits of living in New Zealand to be among people who don't mind writing about the United States. Much of the time it's fawning, but often it's incisively critical. On that side of the ledger I'm particularly grateful to idiot at No Right Turn for keeping me up to date with the events taking place in Iraq. His latest post is a link to Seymour Hersh's article 'Chain of Command' which analyses the abuse and torture that took place at the Abu Ghraib prison. While I tend to get a little sleepy following all the details, Hersh's article did contain a few things that captured my interest: civilian contractors in Abu Ghraib operate in a indeterminate legal environment.

According to the Berkshire Eagle out of Pittsfield, Massachussetts:

At least four of the Americans involved in the physical, sexual and psychological abuse of Iraqi detainees are civilian contract employees who, it turns out, are legally accountable to no one. The worst that can happen to them for the repulsive crimes they committed is the loss of a paycheck... The role of the Abu Ghraib hired guns -- some evidence points to their being ringleaders in the torture and abuse -- is another example of the lunacy of burgeoning privatization in U.S. defense programs. Turning some military jobs over to private companies began almost a decade ago when contractors were paid to feed troops and do their laundry.

And in an article in The Guardian last year, the author outlines the extent of military privatisation:

While the official coalition figures list the British as the second largest contingent with around 9,900 troops, they are narrowly outnumbered by the 10,000 private military contractors now on the ground. The investigation has also discovered that the proportion of contracted security personnel in the firing line is 10 times greater than during the first Gulf war. In 1991, for every private contractor, there were about 100 servicemen and women; now there are 10. The private sector is so firmly embedded in combat, occupation and peacekeeping duties that the phenomenon may have reached the point of no return: the US military would struggle to wage war without it.

The Berkshire Eagle summarises the history of privatisation in the U.S. Army, and comments:

In addition to investigating the specific administrative breakdowns that led to what one Army general called "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses," Congress needs to re-examine the fast trend toward military privatization and reverse it.

If Congress finds that the U.S. privatisation of warfare has led to a breakdown of accountability and has contributed to abuse and torture, the two people chiefly responsible are none other that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Again, the Guardian writes:

The Pentagon will "pursue additional opportunities to outsource and privatise", the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, pledged last year and military analysts expect him to try to cut a further 200,000 jobs in the armed forces.

...if an American GI draws and uses his weapon in an off-duty bar brawl, he will be subject to the US judicial military code. If an American guard employed by the US company ITT in Tuzla does the same, he answers to Bosnian law. By definition these companies are frequently operating in "failed states" where national law is notional. The risk is the employees can literally get away with murder.